California has long maintained ambitious goals for arts education. The state Education Code requires schools to offer courses of study in four arts disciplines to all California K–12 students. In 2005/06, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, SRI Education researchers conducted a study of arts education in California. Our goal was to assess schools’ arts programs relative to state goals, examine the systems of support for these programs, and identify ways in which state and local policymakers might improve conditions for young people to experience arts education in schools. In 2019, the Hewlett Foundation engaged SRI to “refresh” the 2007 study. In most ways, the current study addresses the same research questions and relies on the same research design and data sources as the earlier report—a statewide school survey, case studies, and analysis of extant data provided by the California Department of Education. The context, however, has changed. Perhaps most prominently, in 2013, with the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), California radically changed its system for funding schools. Importantly, we examined arts education in California schools in school year 2019/20 and as such the data collected for this study reflect the status of arts education in California prior to the pandemic. In 2021 and 2022, before the release of this report (but after data collection), California enacted a host of new policies that may improve students’ opportunities to experience arts education in schools.
Overall, we found that, while much remained the same in 2020 as in 2006, some aspects of arts education in California’s K–12 schools had improved. These improvements coincide with funding increases associated with LCFF and career and technical education (CTE), coordinated advocacy efforts, changes to the state accountability system, and substantial increases in support from school districts, counties, and partner organizations. Nonetheless, despite improvements, California schools still fall short of state goals for arts education and a persistent pattern of inequity emerges from our current data.